(Or – what I wish I’d known when I started blogging.)A lmost everyone who is anyone in the Blogisphere recommends that even beginners should have a self-hosted blog. If you start out on a free platform and your blog grows, then transferring to self-hosted can be difficult.
I didn’t know that when I was a beginner so both my blogs began on free platforms. The first one, Inquiring Parent, started out on WordPress.com. (A free platform, not to be confused with WordPress.org.) After several years of sporadic posting it was time to give up or get serious. I decided to give up. Then I got a year’s free hosting. So I kept going.
I can say for sure that if you only have a handful of posts, moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org is easy. Very easy. If your blog has grown to hundreds of posts, then it’s probably not so easy.
My second blog (that’s this one) was originally on Blogger, under a different name (Writing a River.) If self-hosting is what everyone recommends for bloggers, your own name domain is what everyone recommends for authors. I dithered for almost a year, before recently moving the blog and changing its name. This time, I followed Fabulous Blogging’s beginner’s guide to moving from Blogger to WordPress, and the move itself was straightforward.
What was less straightforward for me, was deciding on a hosting company. So this post is the one I’d have liked to read a couple of months ago!
First, why spend money on a blog when you can get one for free?
- Free platforms generally have less flexibility. For example, you can’t use plug-ins (extra features) on the free version of WordPress.com. You can pay for some extra features, but then it’s not free any more!
- Some free platforms don’t allow you to place ads on. That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be ads on your blog, just that you won’t be earning from them, the blogging platform will. (Some, such as WordPress.com, do allow ads once you reach a certain number of views per month.)
- If your blog is on Blogger, which does allow ads and affiliate links, you face a different issue. Although you own your content, Google’s terms and conditions mean that you agree to this:
When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
That’s a lot of rights to give away!
- If you build up search engine traffic on a free site, moving to a self-hosted blog will mean an initial drop in traffic, even if you implement the recommended 301 redirects. I moved this blog about six weeks ago, and it has currently lost around two-thirds of its traffic. From what I’ve read this is fairly common. It will eventually improve, but is not ideal!
- Many people do use free blog platforms, even after their blogs have grown. Here are some reasons not to go self-hosted.
- Your blog is a hobby, and you have no interest in it earning income through it.
- You’re not sure if you really want to blog and would like to try it out for a few months.
Most of us don’t have web servers in our garden sheds so self-hosted doesn’t really mean self-hosted at all. Instead, you rent a space on a host’s server, just as a company might rent space in a warehouse building. That space is what you pay for, and on its own you can do nothing with it – so you add a blogging platform. These are all free (as far as I know!) WordPress.org is by far the most popular, but there are many others to choose from. Take a look at the screenshot below and you’ll see what I mean. (It’s a section of the control panel for my blogs.)
We all have different levels of experience and different personalities, so what suits one person may not suit another.
Some points to consider
- Technical support
- Type of hosting package
- Is it on cPanel?
- Environmental considerations
What type of technical support does the host provide?
For most of us, this is the biggest consideration, and if you are a new blogger is it even more important. (Of course, if you are a coding expert tech support is probably not your biggest concern, but then you probably aren’t reading this!)
Ways tech support is provided:
- By phone
- By live-chat (a pop-up chat box on your computer screen.)
- By email.
For beginning bloggers, I don’t recommend choosing a host with email-only support. When I was researching hosts, one company contactable only by email took 24 hours to reply to my query – not ideal when you need help.
Phone or live-chat support – which is better?
Whether you choose a company whose support is provided by live-chat or phone is a matter of personal preference. (Having tried both, I prefer phone calls.) Some provide both types.
Support by phone or live chat can mean 24 hour support or a more limited service. 9am – 5pm Pacific Time is common, since many hosting companies are based in California or Arizona. I live in the UK, so need support during UK working hours, but one British company didn’t answer their phone at 10 am on a Tuesday morning. (Needless to say, I did not choose it!)
How to check out a company:
Ask lots of questions. If the tech support gives answers beyond your technical knowledge, politely say so. Good support staff will treat you with respect even if you don’t understand straight away. You need to be supported in terms you can understand, and before you buy is the best time to find out if the tech support will do that!
If you live in the United States, some companies have toll-free phone support. If you are not from the States and are considering an American host, check the phone rates very carefully. For some companies calls will be at international rates, for others it will be charged as if you are calling within your country.
It’s not always easy to get a clear cost comparison. Some companies offer cheap rates for the first year and then charge more for subsequent years. Or they may offer a better deal if you sign up for a set time, say 5 years. How the salesperson responds to your questions is again a good indication of whether to choose that company or not. (If the salesperson hedges or can’t answer questions, then perhaps that company isn’t a good bet!)
Types of hosting package
Some packages are for one blog only, others allow you to have 5 or even more on one account. If you have more than one blog, an account that allows several is considerably cheaper than hosting each one separately.
Cost is not the only consideration when comparing hosting packages. Some restrict bandwidth – which means that if your blog gets over a certain number of visitors your site will slow down. But unlimited bandwidth isn’t necessarily best either! The Executionists have a good explanation of bandwidth in this article.
Other limitations might be the storage limits, or email addresses.
Many companies offer managed WordPress blogs. With these, things like back-ups are taken care of for you and updates are automatic, so they are a good option if you don’t feel confident about managing your blog. However, they do cost more!
Shared or Private Server?
As you check out hosting packages, you might notice terms like “dedicated server,” or VPS or Shared Hosting. Most blogs are hosted on shared servers, which means what it says – you share a server with other blogs. It is possible to get a private server, which will make your site faster this costs a lot more and is not aimed at bloggers! Another options is VPS (Virtual Private Server) where you have a private space on a shared server. The main advantage of this is that your site won’t slow down because other sites are busy. But it’s also quite pricey and for the beginning blogger, shared hosting is the norm.
Is it on cPanel?
If I could give only one recommendation, it would be to choose a hosting package that is on cPanel. This is the control panel through which to launch your blog, access your blog files, do back-ups or add email accounts. With its guided start-up and video tutorials, cPanel makes all of this easier, but the main reason I recommend it is because it is fast becoming the industry standard. If, in future, you decide to change hosts it is much easier and cheaper with cPanel.
Web-hosting is one of the highest polluting industries! I will admit that I didn’t realise this when I was looking for a host, so I didn’t look into is as much as I would another time. I have since noticed that GreenGeeks, WebHostingHub and HostGator are some eco-hosting companies that generally get good reviews, both in terms of eco-friendliness and general service.
Some hosting companies now use largely renewable energy to power their servers. These are mostly based in California, where there’s plenty of sun for solar panels. UK based companies are generally more likely to use a carbon off-setting scheme.
What I found when investigating host companies was that for every blogger who liked one company, another disliked them. This was true of every host! Because of this, I can’t really recommend a company for you, because what suits me might not suit you. I can tell you that I am with GoDaddy and I have found their tech support staff to be extremely helpful, polite and friendly. They have solved every problem I’ve had, and even helped me when I didn’t understand answers given by my blog’s theme’s support staff!